Joe Manchin: The impeachment trial will be a sham if we don't hear from John Bolton

There’s no suspense over what the verdict in Trump’s trial will be. There *is* suspense over whether the vote to acquit, or to remove, will be bipartisan. (Could be both, of course.) Republicans have been targeting three red-state Democrats — Doug Jones, Kyrsten Sinema, and ol’ Joe Manchin — as potential acquittal votes.

Might be time to adjust those expectations now that Bolton’s rolled a grenade into the trial.

I should have anticipated this in my post about Bolton’s announcement that he’s willing to testify. That news makes it somewhat harder for the Collins contingent in the Republican center to avoid calling him as a witness but it makes it a lot harder for Jones, Sinema, and Manchin to cross the aisle on the final vote. Now that Schumer and Pelosi have framed the verdict as a “cover up” if it’s rendered without hearing from Bolton, any Democrat who votes with Trump will be viewed by the left as guilty of an even more heinous act of partisan treason than they would have been otherwise. Behold Joe Manchin, who represents one of the Trumpiest states in the union, running in terror from acquittal in the wake of the Bolton news:

“How do you expect us to have a trial? How do you expect me as a jurist to make a decision and be able to vote one way or the other if I don’t have witnesses and if I don’t have any evidence at all?” Manchin asked “I can’t see how anybody, Democrat or Republican, cannot vote to have John Bolton testify, whether a deposition, whatever, under oath so that we have the evidence first-hand. That’s what I want to see. If we don’t get that, then it’s a sham of a trial.”

“So if you don’t hear from John Bolton, it will not be a fair trial?” Camerota asked.

“I don’t see how it can be,” Manchin answered.

If Trump and the GOP believe the House process was fundamentally unfair, he wonders in the clip below, why wouldn’t the Senate seize the opportunity to make it fairer by hearing from witnesses with material information? Let’s be more thorough than the House was! If the truth is within our grasp, there’s no excuse not to seize it.

What Bolton’s offer has done is given him, Sinema, and Jones a convenient excuse on process grounds not to vote for acquittal in the end. Presumably they’ll vote “present” now, or try to, claiming that they can’t in good conscience declare the president not guilty when there’s a key witness who’s ready to testify whom the GOP refuses to call. That puts added pressure on the Collins group to agree to call Bolton once the trial begins: Obviously, Collins and Cory Gardner would reeeeeeeally like to have some Democratic votes for acquittal that they can point to on the campaign trail next year when angry Democrats demand that they explain why they voted not guilty. “Um, three Democrats voted not guilty as well,” they’d say. Manchin might be willing to provide them with that cover — but they’ll have to do him and his party a favor first by agreeing to hear from Bolton.

Which is a huge risk to Collins et al. What if Bolton says something incriminating about Trump? Then, suddenly, Manchin, Sinema, and Jones would have cover to vote to remove and Collins would be hung out to dry, forced to cast an acquittal vote that now looked more dubious than if she had refused to call Bolton in the first place.

Anyway, Slate is correct that virtually every bit of messaging coming from Democrats lately, from Pelosi’s weird strategy of holding the articles of impeachment to Manchin’s chatter about a sham trial here, is aimed at delegitimizing the final “not guilty” verdict. They’re going to lose the battle in the Senate but try to win the war for public opinion:

And while the last phase of the impeachment fight was about convincing the public that a trial matters, and that it ought to include witnesses, the next phase will be about trying to convince the public to hold Republicans accountable where the Democrats could not. Democrats think they can make the case that potentially vulnerable senators like Collins, Colorado’s Cory Gardner, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, and Arizona’s Martha McSally have shirked their duty.

A Senate Democratic aide pointed to fresh surveys from a Democratic pollster that indicated that these four at least would be viewed unfavorably in their home states if they blocked witnesses and documents. But that polling took place in a context where Democrats were actively fighting for impeachment, rather than yielding to McConnell themselves.

Here’s Manchin slowly backing away from a Bolton-less trial.